A large part of the Double Heritage project was shaped by stories told to me by the inhabitants of Moengo themselves.
A local filmmaker told me about the time Princess Beatrix visited Moengo, in 1965. The day before, one of the workers’ sons had used the swimming pool meant for the (predominantly white) staff. Just before the princess arrived, the entire pool had been drained and refilled.
When the old hospital was cleared in order to create an art center and museum, a large number of items and documents were found. One of the local artists found his own birth certificate. It was like Suralco had skipped town very suddenly. The police post left the same impression (see image).
The Netherlands gave Suralco a permit to mine bauxite, providing a Dutch managing director would be appointed. As it happens, the colonial leaders were not too impressed with the Americans; they were thought to be bad at following the colonial rules. I read this in Het Rijke Ertsland (Rich Land of Ore), written by O.M. de Munnick in 1946:
"The Americans present here led somewhat of a free life in the Surinamese jungle, failing to uphold the colony laws, which caused quite a bit of trouble, along with friction between them and the leadership. Meanwhile, Gouvernor Staal had been repatriated, and the colony would henceforth be led by his successor, Baron van Heemstra. When the bauxite factory plans were ready and the request came in, to build the necessary installations with living quarters, etc. on the grounds, the new Governor took the opportunity to include the provision, that a Dutchman was to be put in charge of the build, as well as take full responsibility for there being no trouble caused by the Americans put to work in Moengo."
What these laws entailed, exactly, or what made the Americans’ behavior so excessive, I never found out. But it sure captured my imagination.
There is a golf course in Moengo as well, which is the last thing I expected to see in the interior of Suriname. The golf course was commissioned by company director G.J.M. Toxopeus. Toxopeus wasn’t especially passionate about bauxite or aluminum, and preferred to spend his time on his favorite hobby. First he played golf on a stretch of land behind the factory, but later he had an actual golf course put in next to a farm, where the hilly landscape offered a nice challenge to a skilled player. It took a long time for the course to be built; its pine trees and grass were specially imported from North America.
Rudy Gomperts, who was a Suralco staff member in the sixties, once told me about getting a haircut on the Lijnweg, outside of Stafdorp. The next morning, the company director called him into his office. It was unusual for staff members to get their hair cut in the village, and very much frowned upon. Suralco staff members’ private lives were keenly observed.
Moengo was entirely self sufficient. Suralco had even built a farm; cows supplied fresh milk. Suralco’s grocery store was called “Ons Belang” (“Our Interest”). Here, one could get vegetables, fruit, eggs, milk, and chicken, all produced by Suralco, on tab. Payment wasn’t necessary. You just gave your father’s payroll number. Mister Wong, the boss, knew all the numbers by heart. Anything bought in the store would be subtracted from the workers’ paychecks.